While there is no denying bicycles are the centerpieces of bike-sharing programs, many business leaders see the systems as community amenities that help them attract and retain talented workers and reduce health care costs. On Wednesday Milwaukee’s fun new Bublr Bikes launched with quite a bit of fanfare and a host of smiling public officials giving speeches. While it was great to hear so many elected officials and public employees from the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, West Allis, Wauwatosa, Shorewood and the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation all saying nice things about bicycling and Milwaukee, for me, Curt Culver, CEO and President of MGIC made the most poignant speech.
For the last 33 years, Culver has been working for the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation, one of Milwaukee’s largest employers and the largest provider of private mortgage insurance in the country. While MGIC has indoor bike parking and showers for their employees who commute by bike, Culver is not a “bike guy.” He is not a Bike Fed member and as far as I know, he does not commute, race or tour. So why is he so behind bike-share? It is worth taking a couple of minutes to listen to the audio file of his comments from the Bublr launch event below.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I don’t speak with the authority of the CEO of a billion dollar company. Culver recognizes that he and other business leaders have the responsibility of creating attractive jobs, but in a competitive market place they are competing for workers against companies in other cities like Austin, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland. I have friends and family who moved to places like Austin, Seattle, and Chicago, and I have watched my friend’s kids move to other “youth magnet” cities after they graduated from college. Some moved before they had a job because where they live is now more important than where they work, and with degrees in computer science, finance and healthcare fields, they knew they could land a job anywhere.
The other reason Culver said MGIC sponsors the Bublr Bikes station outside their headquarters is to help reduce his company’s healthcare costs. MGIC employees are encouraged to enroll in wellness programs that reduce the cost of their healthcare and taking a Bublr over to a nearby meeting or Bublr over to the Public Market for lunch fit neatly into that strategy.
Culver is no outlier, and his opinions are shared by many other of Wisconsin’s business leaders. Paul Purcell, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer and a member of the boards of directors of Baird Financial Group and Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc., wrote a letter of support for the bike path over the Hoan Bridge, not because he wanted to ride it, but because it would have made it easier for him to bring top talent to Baird’s headquarters in Milwaukee. Developers like Barry Mandel of the Mandel Group, Inc., Gary Grunau of Schlitz Park want bike share to reduce their need for parking, which cost $25,000 per space, and make their developments more attractive to tenants who look for living or office space with nearby urban amenities. In New York City, CitiGroup CEO Vikram Pandit told the said his company sponsored CitiBike because it is “an innovative option, kind of like ZipCar,” but “better for the environment and it’s also good exercise.” MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga was more simple: ”The bike-share program is just another way to continue that ‘priceless’ New York feeling.”
So while you can’t talk about bike-share without saying “bike,” for the business community, it’s not about the bicycle.